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Going Beyond Retail Into New Digital Signage Markets

As someone who is totally immersed in the digital signage phenomenon, it never ceases to amaze me how many people think digital signage is all about the retail market and the process of convincing, luring, or pushing the viewer to buy more of whatever it is you are trying to promote. In fact it was retail that made us aware of the possibilities of what digital signage could do for other venues. Even today, people will be entranced and motivated by the best of retail signage and then take that enthusiasm back to their companies, schools, healthcare facilities, or financial institutions and employ it in a modified form for their own objectives.

Respected business analysts suggest that retail signage will account for approximately 35 percent of the total available digital signage market, also known as digital out of home (DooH). These pundits report that the majority of the market opportunities though 2014 will be in the areas of corporations, educational institutions, health care, financial, entertainment venues, transportation, government, and security.

Before I need to extricate my foot from my mouth regarding retail opportunities, or in some cases a lack thereof, simply employ the litmus test of reality in going after “certain retail projects.” By that I am referring to the huge multi-thousand screen rollouts for major retail companies in fast food, shopping malls, and large retail chains of nearly any type. Most of us have a better chance to win the lottery than landing these mammoth projects. It is like catching a huge fish. It takes a lot of work up front and then when you set the hook, actually landing them is another story all together. It takes a lot of time to land the big fish and sometimes (nearly always) several years to land the mammoth digital signage project. Check your ROI (time, effort, money invested) before going after that big fish!

There are excellent retail projects out there that you can actually land. Local retail stores of all types are fertile grounds to cultivate, as are companies with a more regional scale and scope. A colleague of mine who is the VP of a large digital signage software company often jokes that he “will take all of the projects in digital signage for 1 to 100 screens and his business will dwarf that of companies who go after the huge projects in the thousands of screens and in an oftentimes futile effort, deplete their resources before getting into the game.”

Now that my foot is away from my mouth and is back where it belongs we can examine the point that non-retail applications provide the most significant opportunities for growth for the majority of us who want and expect the digital signage market to be all that it is cracked up to be.

For a digital signage project to move forward whether retail or not, it must make financial sense. It is easy to understand the ROI on most retail projects. You display advertising of one type or another with a definable call to action and compare those stores which employ digital signage to other similar stores without it, and measure the difference in sales performance, traffic, repeat business, etc. The growth versus investment can be counted in dollars and cents, which every investor can understand. This begs the question of how to measure ROI in corporations, schools, and healthcare facilities that do not rely on the advertising models. The accurate answer is that you do not measure ROI rather ROO, or return on objectives.

In a recent article I opined that the conventional wisdom that content is king is not accurate. I believe that the objective is king, and that in any digital signage model the first and perhaps most important phase before moving forward is understanding the objective of the project and ultimately how it will be measured/viewed by the investors as a success or a failure after it is completed. The problem with objectives is being able to clearly state them in tangible terms. This involves both qualitative and quantitative aspects in the evaluation process.

Let’s take healthcare as one of my favorite examples of non-retail digital signage business. There are thousands of doctors’ offices, hospitals, health clinics, dentist offices, and physical therapy centers across the country. Most are local or regional in their reach and an ideal place to “hunt” for business. The obvious place to start is in the waiting rooms of these institutions. In this application the doctor’s office or health care center may want to employ a hybrid business model, which is a combination information model along with an advertising model. It is an easy path and can pay for itself without a lot of sales effort or time spent.

We need to dig a little deeper to uncover the totality of the opportunity that may exist in this project. How about using digital signage to sign in patients and schedule visits, lab services, and even pull up patients’ records? Next a patient moves to the examining room. Another screen can be mounted with the latest health care information of the day and help to reduce anxiety and wait-time fatigue. In the business area of the doctor’s office a digital sign can show the staff how many patients are waiting and this can be changed in a priority manner when an emergency arrives. How about using digital signage in departments for training? If you put your thinking caps on you can think of other applications.

This can all be part of ROO with a little ROI thrown in for good measure. The results can be measured in patient satisfaction and repeat business. It can be measured in time savings on the part of the doctors, the nursing staff, and the business department. It can be measured in the “sales” of other medical services that a doctor, dentist, or healthcare center may provide. The point is to match up possible objectives that may have meaning to the client with what you have to offer. Just remember that you need to be the expert in suggesting uses of digital signage in as many ways as possible and do not depend on the client to come up with an exhaustive list of how they want to employ it. The expansion of the objectives is key in the needs analysis process.

Another of my favorite non-retail applications is in education. Once again, conventional wisdom dictates the use of a nice flat panel display at the reception desk or in the cafeteria extolling the virtues of the basketball team or announcing the winter dance. If you stop here you will miss one of the largest and most creative aspects of digital signage, and that is as a teaching tool. In the world of education today we need to teach our students in a manner in which they are familiar and comfortable. Every day they use their interactive smart phones, handheld video games, social networking, and the omnipresent Google searches on the internet. The technologies of today need to be employed in education including video, graphics, and the internet in an interactive manner. With more than 350 digital signage software suppliers out there, we can design systems so that educational institutions can create content, distribute information, archive it, promote collaboration in and out of the classrooms, and monitor all of this flow of information to see who is participating, when, and how much. Once again, dig beneath the surface of the obvious and consider all possibilities. If you limit yourself ultimately you will limit your clients’ thinking as well.

My final example of non-retail digital signage is in corporations and manufacturing plants scattered around the country. By now you have gotten the point that the reception desk is not where digital signage should end up. Each department should have their own digital signage system to monitor where they are in daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly sales, work throughput, new policies and procedures, emergency issues, company-wide announcements and departmental training. Human resources should utilize their own system displaying new policies and procedures, benefit packages for employees, new hires coming on board, employee orientation, etc.

The finance guys should not be left out. No, really they should not, since they will have to pay for the system! How about a digital signage system showing the company’s stock prices, revenues to date versus plan, accounts receivable, status of regions, and bad debt collection to name a few issue that they need to be kept abreast of on a regular basis.

Last but not least, how about the manufacturing plant and shipping departments? What is the manufacturing throughput to plan. What is their material flow and what materials are on backorder and most importantly, when will it be delivered? Where is manufacturing in terms of sales backorders? What is the status of the warehouse and shipping in terms of flow out the door? The bottom line is to dig into the details of how company runs and what information is key to their everyday lives and you have a blueprint for a digital signage system.

There are any number of other non-retail application and opportunities out there that are worthy of consideration. We have financial institutions that are eager to regain the public’s trust and this market is not just made up of the mega banks and investment houses. There are more local and regional banking and financial services opportunities than you can imagine. They will most likely use hybrid business models and team with local companies for yet another group of opportunities for you to explore. We also have entertainment venues like local theaters, museums, science centers, planetariums, visitor centers, etc. Consider emergency notification systems and network operations centers. The list is nearly endless.

The important thing to consider is to think out of the proverbial box. Think beyond the mega deals that are often a sirens song. Think about the plethora of “small” retail and non-retail applications surrounding you in every office, school, financial institution, and medical center. When you find an opportunity, take the time to evaluate the inner workings of the prospect company and develop proposals for use in every department and every way possible. More often than not, a company begins with a minimalist approach and by the opening their eyes to what digital signage can mean in terms of ROI and ROO you will have a loyal customer for life. Now go out and make that sale!

Alan C. Brawn, CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE ( is a principal of Brawn Consulting, an audiovisual consulting, educational development, and market intelligence firm.